Do You Have Drive? Here’s What REALLY Motivates Us.

pacman food

We’ve been told our whole lives that rewards and accountability are what get us to actually follow through on our promises.

It’s the reward that drive us to complete a difficult or undesirable task; it’s the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps us going when times get tough.

Heck, every RPG in existence is built around this premise too: “just one more quest, because then I’ll get a new level which will let me buy a new sword!”

We then use accountability to drag us out of bed on days when we just don’t feel like doing our job. We can either lose a $50 bet to our friends for skipping, or we can just do the darn workout!

We’re big fans of rewards and accountability around here at Nerd Fitness, but what if that’s just the beginning?

It turns out, there’s another type of motivation that is the REAL predictor of long-term success…and it has nothing to do with punishment or rewards!

If you’ve been on a roller coaster, losing weight and gaining weight and going through months of success followed by months of apathy…

If you’re tired of knowing what to do to get healthy, but just can’t freaking GET yourself to do it…

Today is for you.

What’s YOUR drive?

black white road

When I first started working out 14 years ago, it was because I was sick of being the weak, scrawny kid.

I wanted to build muscles and get big and strong and try to make the high school basketball team (after failing the first time).

My goals were very externally-focused: “If I work out, then I will build muscle and get better at sports and look better and thus have more confidence.” I was so focused on the scale and how I looked in the mirror that I based a lot of my self worth on that outward appearance.

However, something funny happened along my journey: I fell in love with exercise and stopped worrying about those things that I neurotically tracked daily.  

These days, I step on a scale maybe once a month. I’ve stopped counting calories completely and no longer freak out if I don’t get enough protein each and every day. I eat to fuel my progress.

As a result of these changes, I’m actually now in the best shape of my life and feel more confident!

I don’t go to the gym to exercise; I go to the gym because I truly enjoy my time there.

I love the feeling of chalk on my hands and wrists as I set up for muscle ups, an exercise I couldn’t complete this time last year. I love that fraction of a second, halfway through a rep, where I wonder “am I gonna be able to get above these rings?” and my body responds with “hell yeah!”

I love feeling like freaking Wolverine, my body’s central nervous system in berserker mode after setting a new personal best on deadlifts (take that spine!).

I love working on my handstands, and that moment where time stops when I’m in perfect balance upside down – my scatterbrained mind suddenly finding focus and repeating one phrase: “don’t move.” It’s taken me months and months of practice to get to that point, and each day an extra second held in perfect balance is a win.

I love the weird looks I get from bros doing bicep curls (or power curtsies) in the squat rack as I hang up olympic rings to work on my front lever and back lever holds.

I love that sound each plate makes as it’s added to the barbell, clink!

I love blasting Moby’s “Mysterious Ways” (pretending like I’m Jason Bourne) after my workout is done, feeling like a million bucks.

No matter how good or bad my day is going, no matter what is going on with my friends or with my business or with my family, the gym is always there, challenging me to see if I’m a little bit better than I was last time.

I can’t wait for my next workout.

Drive: What Really Motivates Us


In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel H. Pink argues that to get the best out of ourselves, only focusing on rewards and punishments isn’t doing us any favors.

When Pink introduced the concept of a third, more important type of drive early on in his book, I initially panicked.

After all, I’ve been telling people for years about the importance of rewards and accountability…and then read there’s a more important type of motivation!?  That “the carrot and the stick” is a flawed system!?

So, have I been lying to you all these years then?

Absolutely not!

For us gamers who have spent countless hours consumed with leveling up and getting to the next level, this philosophy actually fits PERFECTLY with our personalities.

We desire meaningful challenges, we want control, and we want to feel like the things we’re doing are making a difference.

Think about the last GREAT game you played.  I bet it:

  • Provided just the right amount of difficulty that challenged you to get better.
  • Gave you a complete sense of control over your character’s future.
  • Showed you progress and provided you with a sense of accomplishment.

It turns out, the same holds true for a great job or solidly designed exercise/healthy living plan.  If we can check off those three boxes for other parts of our lives, we’re going to have a greater chance to be more successful in the long term.

It even explains why the Nerd Fitness philosophy been successful in helping person after person get fit and STAY fit: We do everything we can to focus on challenge and meaning!

Allow me to explain!

Carrots and Sticks


When it comes to health and fitness, rewards and punishment can be the FIRST step to kickstart one’s transformation, and often works quite well in the short term. 

When we’re trying to get ourselves to do something we don’t want to do, having a reward system when we succeed or penalty system when we shirk our responsibilities is a good start.  However, oftentimes these systems can break down in the long term and we end up back where we started.

I noticed something while reading Drive and thinking about Nerd Fitness – In almost every single one of our success stories, there has been a recurring theme: people who have had lasting success and finally cracked the code essentially have all said the same thing:

“I never thought I’d say this, but I actually look forward to exercising now.”

Think about that previous statement for a second: these are people who most likely either never exercised a day in their lives or generally despised exercising, but they all reached a point where they truly, genuinely look forward to the activity.

This isn’t just a new habit. They’re fulfilling something deeply-rooted within our DNA that CRAVES exercise and physical activity.  We’re designed to move and be active – it’s just lost in us because it’s no longer a requirement for our survival like it was back in the Fred Flintstone days.

Luckily, what has been lost or missing can be found!

Lasting healthy success comes when you go from “ugh, I feel weird when I exercise and don’t like it” to “I feel weird when I DON’T exercise.”

It’s like a flip is switched. Suddenly insurmountable challenges become something to be attempted and eventually conquered. Positivity and “if I could do that, what else am I capable of?” become the rule, not the exception.

It’s an upward spiral.

There’s a reason why one of the pillars of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion is built around this principle: “we exercise because we enjoy it!”

Shifting to Drive


I’m a huge fan of doing whatever necessary to get people started with exercise, be it a competition, bribery, outright blackmail (kidding…kinda!) or whatever.

However, I think that long term success is much more likely when that motivation to change or exercise or eat right BECOMES part of what you do and who you are, not something you HAVE to do:

  • “If I do this exercise, I get a prize. If I don’t eat right, I get punished” becomes “I exercise and eat right because it makes me feel good and I truly enjoy it.”
  • “If I do this 30 minute workout, I can mark it off and keep the streak” becomes “I can’t wait to workout and see how much I can accomplish in these thirty minutes”
  • “If I don’t work out today, I owe my friend $50” becomes “if I don’t work out today, I’ll feel off – like something is missing.”

So, how do we get from the first half of these examples to the second half? And why not just stick with just a video-game style reward system forever?

As pointed out in Drive: “The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road.”

In fitness, with a goal of losing 20 pounds for a wedding, most tend to go about it in a really unhealthy way:

  • Starving yourself and being miserable.
  • Taking weight loss pills.
  • Doing things like cleanses and detoxes (which I’m not a fan of).

In every one of the situations above, because the only goal and benefit for taking action is to “lose 20 pounds,” as soon as that goal is reached, old behavior can return quickly.

So, instead of putting our sole focus on that end goal “fitting into these pants,” or “losing this amount of weight,” both of which are losing extrinsic goals in my mind…we want the focus to be on the process, and make them items we ENJOY:

  • I will work out in an enjoyable way three days each week
  • I will eat a vegetable or fruit that I enjoy with every meal
  • I will cook one healthy meal each day with loved ones

Think about these things…instead of “forcing” yourself to do something to reach some arbitrary goal…you’re selecting things to do that you enjoy rather than dread.

On top of that, you’re far more likely to sustain long-term success when you look forward to the activity in a genuine way…and it’s going to give you a MUCH better chance to get into “Flow”  which will increase your chances of winning significantly.

What the Flow?


Flow, a concept created by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is “is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

In nerd speak: you are having so much fun and so immersed in the activity at hand that you lose track of time.

Although the book Drive speaks about Flow in terms of work, it can also apply to healthy living too. Remember all of those success stories? They alllll started with “I wanted to lose weight” or “I needed to win a bet” and they all ended with “and now, somehow, I actually look forward to working out!”

How does that happen? Here are the three ways you can get yourself into flow:

  • MASTERY: Fall in love with improvement – if you enjoy strength training, you’re not just exercising, you’re improving. Every workout is tracked, and every workout is an opportunity to get a little bit better.
  • ENJOYMENT: Do it because you enjoy it – if you lose track of time while running, cooking, doing yoga, or rock climbing, you’ve found the activity that you need to spend more time doing! Stop spending time working out in a way that makes you miserable, and continue searching for the one you LOVE.
  • PURPOSE: Be part of something bigger than yourself – we have a massive community of Rebels (and message board members) working hard at improving their lives. Your fitness and health are inspiring more people than you probably realize. This isn’t just for you 🙂

I want you to constantly seek little changes and improvements that show you that you’re on the right path.

I want you to find a way to exercise that you love – that you look forward to doing.

I want you to remember that you’re part of a group that are all trying to improve, and we need you on our side.

Even if you’re somebody that “hates exercise,” I have no doubt that you are genetically designed to lose track of time doing some form of healthy living or physical activity – you just need to be on the lookout for it and not afraid to try new things.

Why are you healthy?


I want to hear from you.

I’d love for you to share your story like I did at the beginning of this article. I’d love to know why you got STARTED with exercise (was it to lose weight? impress a love interest? because your doctor said so?), and I’d love to hear why you KEEP GOING TODAY.

Ultimately, I want to know what the hell you’re doing here:

  • Have you fallen in love with the smell of a great meal that you prepared from scratch?
  • Do you lose track of time when you go for a run, and love exploring new parts of your home town?
  • Do you love how you feel after a hike, looking at the view from a top of a local mountain?
  • Do you love that feeling of complete badassery after breaking 5 boards with a well placed kick?

We have a community of over 200,000, and we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. I know we have a lot of readers who haven’t found their “love” for exercise yet, and that’s okay – that’s where you come in.

I want you to share your story – and I want your help in giving other people ideas on how they too can fall in love with living a better life.  Let’s help each other find that drive, and get into the FLOW!

Let’s hear it 🙂



photo source: arbyreed: carrots, Marco Bernardini: Pac Man, Bethan: Alarm Clock, SenseiAlan: Super/Shifter, Nick Harris: Autobahn, Martin Fisch: dream, Evan Leeson: Praire Sunsets

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